Parking & Driving, Boston
Is driving in Boston as bad as they say it is? Why yes, yes it is.
Having driven in larger cities such as Phoenix, Toronto, and Montreal where traffic is reputed to be bad - Boston driving tops them all in terms of complicity!
So why is driving in Boston so darn bad? Largely in part because most of the city is not based on a square, grid system like most other cities. The Big Dig - the largest and most complicated roadway construction in American history even has their own website.
Anyone living in, near or having been to Boston ever, will tell you public transit is the way. One way streets a plenty, Boston must be the worst driving city in North America.
If you do get brave and think driving is best (which we foolishly did most the time) take your patience with you and plan, plan, plan well ahead of where you want to go. If you're not sure, pull over and ask and take an up to date, detailed map. A must!
Just when you think you've conquered Boston driving, don't get too thrilled. From experience, Bostonians are the most hostile drivers we've encountered yet. While Montreal drivers are impatient and hard to handle, Boston drivers are that - plus angry. If you even wait a nanno-second too long at a green light they're not above bumping your car, giving you the finger, screaming and beeping.
And thats what they do to eachother! So if you're a tourist you better familairize yourself pretty quickly with the area if you're driving. If you do find that driving is simply a must for you and the other drivers don't freak you out - parking in Boston certainly will.
Planning on spending a full-day at the New England Aquarium are you? Be ready to fork over $28 in US Funds (thats $45 Canadian). Going to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts? Be prepared to spend $17 US ($30 Canadian) for just two measely hours at the parking garage (which also happens to frequently be full).
In a nut shell, bring the most comfy pair of walking shoes you own!
The good news about driving in Boston is that you'll eventually end up where you started. Watch the signs. They often sneak up on you. Left exit? Right exit? Just remember, it's better to turn around and start again than to cut through three lines of traffic to make an exit...be careful!
Driving in the city is a bit crazy especially if you're going to the brewpubs. Better to take the T as Boston has perhaps the best mass transit system in the United States. See link below for details.
If you drive, pay attention to the roads. Lots of roads in local are tricky. They turn off suddenly rather than go straight. The road signs are small. So if you are not confident to your eyesight, and not familiar with Boston, wear your glasses and pay more attention to every cross.
I just need to reiterate my admonitions not to drive a car into Boston, especially the city centre. Boston is unlike any other city in North America in terms of its physical composition, and the winding, narrow nature of its streets coupled with the heavy congestion endemic of high population densities inevitably result in a nightmarish scenario for anyone used to the grid system of wide streets so prevalent on this continent. The accompanying photo is of heavy gridlock in a neighbourhood commercial district quite a ways from downtown, which was still nerve-wrecking to endure (the photo was taken reflected off my rear-view mirror). Unpredictable events, such as construction or flash flooding (Storrow Drive, one of the city's major highways, is rather low-lying and prone to inundation from the adjacent Charles River) can turn what can typically be a 20-minute joruney into one lasting two hours or more. Many intersections lack any indication of lane delineation, some highways allow for travel on breakdown lanes and road rage is highly proliferous. I urge even the most avid automobile aficionado to abandon their vehicle for the duration of their trip and make extensive use of their own legs or of the public transportation system for safe and rapid transit about the city. Despite whatever nightmarish things some individuals may have to say about the uncleanliness or inefficiency of the public transit system, nine times out of ten it will be a superior conveyance within the city centre to a car or truck.
Parking, of course, is another issue altogether. Having lived in the metropolitan Boston region for six years, I can locate free parking in several peripheral areas around the city centre, but it is impossible to penetrate downtown Boston without having to endure exorbitant parking rates. The most economical (and centrally located) garage is that under Boston Common, but it tends to fill fast even when none of the city's frequent events are taking place.
The South End used to be home to many of the city's assorted minority groups- blacks and hispanics especially, before its "rediscovery" in the late 1960s began its gradual transformation into a gentrified district of mainly white professionals. However, many of those who were forced out of the neighbourhood by rising prices return every Sunday to their traditional churches in the neighbourhood, causing a traffic crisis as cars from other city neighbourhoods pile up and pedestrians jam the sidewalks. In the photo you can see cars parked two deep down the centre of one street, begging to invite mayhem. It's just another arcane little traffic situation which continually beguiles Boston and holds it in the grips of tyrranical gridlock.
Don't even THINK about driving around here. The Big Dig has everything "Under Construction." It is VERY easy to get lost with all the DETOURS, zillions of barely readable signs, confusing directions, AWFUL rotary's, one way streets etc. You just CAN'T get there from HERE !!!
Do not attempt to drive while in Boston. You will only excercise your patience to its absolute limit or beyond. There's nowhere to park anyway. Take the T or cab it.
The Big Dig: (http://www.bigdig.com)
Someday it will be done. But for now, residents and visitors must contend with The Big Dig. Touted as the largest & most complex public works project in North America, The Central Artery/Tunnel project has been confounding drivers and pedestrians alike with street closings, reroutings, blockages and traffic cops who really don't have a clue about how to efficiently direct traffic.
The project includes building several tunnels, highways, bridges and new public transportation routes in and around Boston, all in an attempt to relieve traffic congestion & gridlock caused by the thousands of cars that come into and out of town and Logan airport each day. Begun in 1991, it was promised the project would be complete by 2004, but we're crossing our fingers on that one. Visit the Big Dig website (http://www.bigdig.com) for interesting facts about the project as well as some pretty good pictures of what's going on around town. They even have a section about the archeological finds that have been dug up in the course of the project.
See this web site for links to information on current traffic conditions and live web-cams:
If you're lucky enough to find street parking, your troubles are not over. The meter maids here are very efficient and merciless. Not to mention there are countless exception to regular parking days and hours, like street-cleaning day, snowplowing day, random street digging day, towtruck operators appreciation day, etc. It's enough to make you want to walk or use public transportation.
One way streets, parking, double parking, and running naked through Boston common can all get you in trouble with the local authorities, however...if you plan to visit this fine city, all you gotta do to avoid trouble in all but the last of the above mentioned dangers, is to say: 'I couldn't fynnah place tah pahk tha cah, officah. Where cann-I pahk tha cah? Hahvahd yahd?'
But if you decide to run naked through the Common, then you're on your own.
As most of the other travelers have pointed out, watch out for Boston drivers. They drive fast and very aggresively. Naturally being an old city, the streets in downtown and some of the neighborhoods are very small.
DRIVING--I think some of the worst drivers come out of Boston--that or people whose second income is in NasCar--in other words, these people drive FAST, pass whenever there is an opportunity even if there is not a lane for them to drive in...it takes some time getting used to--drive fast and you will fit in.
-The speed limit on most major highways in Massachusetts is 55 mph/88 km with some sections, 65 mph/104 km.
-While most non-U.S. driver's licenses are acceptable, it's best to bring an international driver's license.
-State law requires all passengers to wear seat belts.